Performed by Headlong and Shakespeare's Globe, seen in Worthing.
This is a contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most famous pieces. It has been cleverly reworked with the issues of the 16th century being brought to life through the relevance of some of those our modern world is currently experiencing. King Henry IV dying whilst suffering a terrible cough in a COVID style hospital environment opens the play.
The set is simple and extremely effective. A long green back drop curtain is raised for some of the scenes displaying an antique mirrored effect back flat. This works particularly well during Henry’s speeches as he battles with himself and his emotions whilst looking directly at himself in this wall. The audience also gets to see through the wall so backstage business is observed. This adds to the originality of the piece. Hand rails are placed on this wall which enable to cast to climb up and down developing some lovely levels and enhancing the action scenes. Five green simple plastic chairs sit down either side of the stage adding to the hospital waiting room atmosphere in the first scene. These are occupied by the cast of ten. The cast wore simple, modern day clothing which suited the style of the play. This is a fast paced production and the scenes and some key stage directions are announced by the cast. Simply ‘Act I, Scene II, A Pub’ delivered by a cast member as they entered the scene kept the pace flowing.
This is an extremely well acted production from a company with a lot of talent. Oliver Johnstone is fantastic as Henry. He gives a thoughtful, intelligent performance. His internal battles and character changes are evident throughout and the speeches were extremely powerful. This is a man battling his emotions and his vulnerability also shines through. His ruthlessness and hunger for power are evident during his violent scenes and his first murder is a memorable moment. Some of the characters are gender neutral and this is very refreshing demonstrating a welcome inclusion. Many of the cast play multiple parts and this works well in some cases. However, it could become a bit confusing. Some cast members are playing two key characters in back to back scenes and as everything was moving quickly it could take a bit of time to register who was who. Fortunately this does not take anything away from the extremely high standard of acting. There are some lovely moments between the actors throughout this production and this is obviously a company who are not only talented but very much enjoy working together. Even when not directly involved in a scene, those actors sat on the side chairs continuously act off the line and engage with each other. They are all a joy to watch.
The physical aspects of the production are outstanding. The action is loud and whilst the camaraderie between allies and friends is evident throughout, we are left in no doubt that a war is taking place. Evidence of hostilities between the camps is constant. Death scenes are
really well choreographed and the fighting between both men and women is excellently performed. The arguments, fights and deaths are all extremely realistic with very little holding back.
A nod to the patriotism of this work is Jerusalem being played during the lifting of the curtain as the whole cast come together. This is directly followed by Henry’s ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech. Delivered excellently by an emotional lead actor.
Rounding off the play is a newly written scene where Princess Catherine is being interviewed in order to gain her British citizenship. This is a funny, well written scene and the comedic delivery by both the Princess and her interrogator was an obvious delight to the audience. We all left with smiles on our faces.
I would thoroughly recommend going to see this version of Henry V. It is an exciting and unique interpretation of a classic.